The label of good and bad foods annoys me. It is one of those labels that I find hard to get away from when I am talking to people as it comes up constantly. I spend a lot of time trying to break that idea down in people’s minds. Google it and there are over 71,800,000 links talking about what foods are good/bad, what bad foods are really good, the best good foods to eat and so on. But do good and bad foods really exist?
Bad foods seem to be ones that are high in sugar, fats and calories. Foods that are “not healthy” and that exert a “bad” affect on the body. They can range from fast food, processed food and high fat/high calorie snack items to carbohydrates and dried fruit.
We have a complex relationship with food. Trying to make it fit into just one camp is tricky. Look at the major food groups – carbohydrates, protein, fat, dairy, fruit and veggies. Then look at lentils. They are put in the protein group but they contain carbs and are a portion of veggies too.
Let’s take it to a more philosophical level. Can a person be labelled as good or bad? Take an object like a razor blade. Is it good or bad? One the one hand it can be used to shave and on the other hand it could be used as a weapon.
So by trying to label foods as good or bad we are over-simplifying it. Foods are really neutral. Labelling them automatically places them into one category. Let’s take chocolate as an example. On the one hand this is a high calorie, high fat food that is often laden with sugar, so could be classed as a “bad food”. However dark chocolate contains iron, magnesium and fibre. It has antioxidants including polyphenols, catchins and flavanols and may help lower blood pressure plus reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Some research suggests it may help with cognitive function too making it sound like a pretty amazing food to be eating. Even fruit and vegetables can have their negatives, too many carrots can turn the skin orange due to excessive beta carotene!
No single food is to my knowledge nutritionally complete. We need a combination of foods in order to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs. This includes the full range of essential fatty acids and some sugar too.
The old phrase “All things in moderation” is actually very true. Instead of looking at a food in isolation we need to think about how often we eat a food, how much or it we eat, combined with what else we are eating and adding to a food. Limiting or not allowing yourself to eat certain foods can actually lead to you craving them more and then over-eating them. Food is something to be enjoyed rather than denied, so a small amount of the things you like really can be good.
So instead of labelling foods as good and bad, or healthy and not healthy, how about we change the way we view it. I let my children eat all foods, including cake, sweets and chocolate. However they know that some foods are best to eat in small amounts as they can lead to their bodies getting sick. A good example of this is a weekend recently where we had multiple parties, leading to a lot of party food being consumed. Both children had tummy aches and were slightly constipated! An excellent time to highlight that they had eaten more biscuits and cakes, less fruit and veggies and their bodies were complaining. We talked about how these foods are delicious (the words of my toddler boy) but if you eat too much of them they can make you feel unwell.
How do you label food in your mind?